Divine Mercy (Acts 2:42-47, I Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31
Introduction: We celebrate today the feast of God’s Mercy. The opening prayer addresses the Father as "God of everlasting Mercy." In first section of the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 118), we repeat three times, “His mercy endures forever!” God revealed His mercy, first and foremost, by sending His only begotten Son to become our Savior and Lord by His suffering, death and Resurrection. Divine Mercy is given to us also in each celebration of the Sacraments, which were instituted to sanctify us.
Homily starter anecdote: Divine Mercy in action: A TIME magazine issue in 1984 presented a startling cover. It pictured a prison cell where two men sat on metal folding chairs. The young man wore a black turtleneck sweater, blue jeans and white running shoes. The older man was dressed in a white robe and had a white skullcap on his head. They sat facing one another, up-close and personal. They spoke quietly so as to keep others from hearing the conversation. The young man was Mehmet Ali Agca, the pope’s would-be assassin (he shot and wounded the Pope on May 13, 1981); the other man was Pope St. John Paul II, the intended victim. The Pope held the hand that had held the gun whose bullet tore into the Pope’s body. This was a living icon of mercy. John Paul’s forgiveness was deeply Christian. His deed with Ali Agca spoke a thousand words. He embraced his enemy and pardoned him. At the end of their 20-minute meeting, Ali Agca raised the Pope’s hand to his forehead as a sign of respect. John Paul shook Ali Agca’s hand tenderly. When the Pope left the cell he said, “What we talked about must remain a secret between us. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.” This is an example of God’s Divine Mercy, the same Divine Mercy whose message St. Faustina witnessed. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading (Acts 2:42-47), shows us how the early Church grew every day because of the acts of mercy and sharing, sacrificial agápe love, practiced by the early Christians. They expressed their love and mercy by sharing what they had with everyone in need. In the second reading (1 Peter 1:3-9), St. Peter glorifies God, the Father of Jesus Christ, for showing us His mercy by granting to His Son, Jesus Resurrection from the dead and a glorious Ascension into Heaven, thus offering us the assurance of our own resurrection, entry into Heaven, and “imperishable and unfading" Heavenly bliss. In today’s Gospel, as we recall Jesus’ appearance to the Apostles on that first Easter evening, we are vividly reminded of the Sacrament of Reconciliation – the power to forgive sins which Our Lord gave to His Apostles, saying, "Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain, they are retained" (Jn 20:23). Today’s Gospel also emphasizes the importance of Faith in the all-pervading presence of the risen Lord of Mercy. To “believe without having seen” is every later Christian’s experience. We are invited to receive liberation from doubts and hesitation by surrendering our lives to the risen Lord of Mercy. Let us ask God our Father to open our hearts so that we may receive His Mercy in the form of the Holy Spirit.
The first reading (Acts 2:42-47) explained: Here we see how the early Church grew every day because of the acts of mercy -- sharing, sacrificial, agápe love -- practiced by the early Christians. They expressed their love and mercy by sharing what they had with everyone in need. Some of them even sold their property and entrusted the money to the Church so that the poor might be helped and supported. We are told that they got the inspiration and good will for the practice of love and mercy because of their sense of being one believing community, living a common life in Jesus. They were strengthened by their punctual and active participation in the “Breaking of the Bread”– the Eucharistic Liturgy. They became single-minded and merciful because of what they learned from the apostles and because of their fellowship and shared prayer life.
The second reading (1 Peter 1:3-9) explained: St. Peter glorifies God, the Father of Jesus Christ, for showing us His mercy by granting His Son, Jesus Resurrection from the dead and a glorious Ascension into Heaven. Jesus’ Resurrection, in turn, offers us a guarantee for our own resurrection, entry into Heaven, and “imperishable and unfading" Heavenly bliss. St. Peter encourages the early Christians by assuring them that their sufferings under the Roman emperor, the Jewish authorities, and their own pagan family members will be amply compensated by the Heavenly reward waiting for them.
Gospel exegesis: Today’s Gospel: The first part of today’s Gospel (verses 19-23), describes how Jesus entrusted to the apostles His mission of preaching the “Good News” of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and salvation. This portion of the reading teaches us that Jesus uses the Church as the earthly means of continuing His mission. It also teaches us that the Church needs Jesus as its source of power and authority, and that it becomes Christ’s true messenger only when it perfectly loves and obeys Him. The risen Lord gives the apostles the authority to forgive sins in His Name, together with the power of imparting God’s mercy to the sinner, through the gift of forgiving sins from God’s treasury of mercy. In the liturgy, the Church has proclaimed the mercy of God for centuries through the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Gospel text also reminds us that the clearest way of expressing our belief in the presence of the risen Jesus among us is through our own forgiveness of others. We can’t form a lasting Christian community without such forgiveness. Unless we forgive others, our celebration of the Eucharist is just an exercise in liturgical rubrics.
The second part of the Gospel (verses 24-29), presents the fearless apostle St. Thomas, in his uncompromising honesty, demanding a personal vision of, and physical contact with, the risen Jesus as a condition for his belief. Thomas had not been with the Apostles when Jesus first appeared to them. As a result, he refused to believe. This should serve as a warning to us. It is difficult for us to believe when we do not strengthen ourselves with the fellowship of other believers. When the Lord appeared to Thomas later, He said: “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed.” Thomas was able to overcome his doubts by seeing the risen Jesus. Modern Christians, who are no longer able to "see" Jesus with their eyes, must believe what they hear. That is why Paul reminds us that "Faith comes from hearing" (Rom 10:17).
The unique profession of Faith: Thomas, the “doubting" apostle, makes the great profession of Faith: “My Lord and my God.” Here, the most outrageous doubter of the Resurrection of Jesus utters the greatest confession of belief in the Lord Who rose from the dead. This declaration by the “doubting" Thomas in today’s Gospel is very significant for two reasons. 1) It is the foundation of our Christian Faith. Our Faith is based on the Divinity of Jesus as demonstrated in His miracles, especially by the supreme miracle of His Resurrection from the dead. Thomas’ profession of Faith is the strongest evidence we have of the Resurrection of Jesus. 2) Thomas’ faith culminated in his self-surrender to Jesus, his heroic missionary expedition to India in A.D. 52, his fearless preaching, and the powerful testimony given by his martyrdom in A.D. 72.
Life messages: 1) Let us accept God's invitation to celebrate and practice mercy. One way the Church celebrates God’s mercy throughout the year is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” So, we see that all of us are to be reconcilers and mediators, becoming channel to one another of the Risen Lord’s peace and forgiveness. Finding time for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is another good way to receive Divine Mercy. The Gospel command, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful," requires that we show mercy to our fellow human beings always and everywhere. We radiate God's mercy to others by our corporal and spiritual works of mercy, by our kind and supportive words, and our by our prayers for all our brothers and sisters.
2) Let us ask God for the Faith that culminates in self-surrender to Him and leads us to serve those we encounter with love. Living Faith enables us to see the risen Lord in everyone and gives us the willingness to render to each one our loving service. It was this Faith in the Lord and obedience to His missionary command that prompted St. Thomas to travel to India to preach the Gospel among the Hindus, to establish seven Christian communities (known later as “St. Thomas Christians”), and eventually to suffer martyrdom. The Fathers of the Church prescribe the following traditional means to grow in the living and dynamic Faith of St. Thomas the Apostle. a) We must come to know Jesus personally and intimately by our daily and meditative reading of the Bible. b) We must strengthen our Faith by the power of the Holy Spirit through our personal and communal prayer. c) We must share in the Divine life of Jesus by frequenting the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) presents it this way: “If we pray, we will believe; if we believe, we will love; if we love, we will serve. Only then we put our love of God into action.”
3) We need to meet the challenge for a transparent Christian life -- "I will not believe unless I see." This "seeing" is what others demand of us. They ask that we reflect Jesus, the risen Lord in our lives by our selfless love, unconditional forgiveness, and humble service. The integrity of our lives bears a fundamental witness to others who want to see the risen Lord alive and active, working in us. Christ’s mercy shines forth from us whenever we reach out to the poor, the needy and the marginalized, as St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) did. His mercy shines forth as we remain open to those who struggle in Faith, as did the Apostle Thomas in today’s Gospel. We should be able to appreciate the presence of Jesus, crucified and raised, in our own suffering and in the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, thus recognizing the glorified wounds of the risen Lord in the suffering of those around us.
4) Like St. Thomas, let us use our skepticism to help us grow in Faith. It is our genuine doubts about the doctrines of our religion that encourage us to study these doctrines more closely and thus to grow in our Faith. This will naturally lead us to a personal encounter with Jesus through our prayer, study of the Word of God, and frequenting of the Sacraments. However, we must never forget the fact that our Faith is not our own doing but is a gift from God. Hence, we need to augment our Faith every day by prayer so that we may join St. Thomas in his proclamation: “My Lord and my God."
5) Let us have the courage of our Christian convictions to share our Faith as St. Thomas did, and to recognize the “nail marks.” We are not to keep the gift of Faith locked in our hearts, but to share it with our children, our families and our neighbors, always remembering the words of Pope St. John XXIII: “Every believer in this world must become a spark of Christ’s light.” “We all have scars from our own Good Fridays that remain long after our own experiences of resurrection. Our ‘nail marks’ remind us that all pain and grief, all ridicule and suffering, are transformed into healing and peace in the love of God that we experience from others and that we extend to them. The “nail marks” of Jesus are all around us in the lives of those walking their own Calvarys. Jesus calls us to be willing to place ourselves in the pain and struggle of others and bring the joy and peace of Easter into hearts, entombed in winter cold and darkness.” (Fr. Antony Kadavil)